Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Difference between Swedish and English Christmas

Normally I get the best (or worst!) of both English and Swedish Christmas. Usually I spend most of December in England and get to eat mince pies and drink mulled wine until I'm fed up with it. Then I go to Sweden just in time for Christmas to enjoy gingerbread snaps and "glögg" (The Swedish version of mulled wine served with raisins and almonds).

This year I've been in Sweden for the whole month and therefore I've missed out on all the English Christmas parties. To me it seems like the English Christmas is louder and merrier especially with the crackers and silly little hats. Swedish Christmas feels quieter and more holy. Already on the 13th we get a bit of holiness through Lucia, people dressing up in white,  putting candles in their hair and singing carols.*

I'm not going to talk much about the food as I'm a vegetarian and both Swedish and English Christmas is very meat based, but to simplify it: Swedes eat ham and the English eat turkey (and perhaps roasted swede, but parsnip is more likely!). In England people usually get a plate with all the food while people in Sweden help themselves from a buffé known as a smörgåsbord.

Maybe the biggest difference is that Swedish Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and Santa knocks on the door and enters the house to deliver the presents. (In the picture last year's Santa knocks on the window.) In England Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Day and Santa usually leaves the presents in a stocking.

So what do I prefer?
Mince pies or gingerbread snaps (pepparkakor)?
Mulled wine or glögg?
Merry or holy?
Xmas Eve or Xmas Day?
Santa himself or a stocking?

The answer is of course ... I want all of it! I want a Swenglish Christmas
and therefore I got my brother to buy crackers from The English Shop in Stockholm.


*I'm aware that I'm generalising and what I'm writing is just personal observation. There are some Swedes that get very merry indeed after a few "snaps" (shots of spiced vodka). And there are some English people that have holy nights too.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Week 30: Last Week - Creations in the Countryside of Småland

I only had three hours sleep after the Stockholm drama last week,
but there's no rest for the wicked ...
When I arrived at my last host's place I had to participate in making cheese cake.
Swedish cheese cake is nothing like English cheese cake.
The biggest difference is that the Swedish version doesn't have a crumbly base
and it contains lots of almond, both sweet and bitter.
The milk we used came from local cows that had been milked that very morning.

Making cheese cake wasn't half as difficult as making Christmas cards though.
It took me two hours to make one single card at my host's work place.

Luckily I could join the staff Christmas party the day after, including a great SPA.

And I relaxed even more taking a walk around Flisby in the county of Småland.

Minus sixteen degrees when driving to town one morning!
The Swedish winter tyres with studs were much needed.

One of the tasks my host gave me was to feed the birds.
We had some "Lussekatter" - Swedish Lucia saffron buns - left over and the birds loved them!

One Saturday morning we went out in  nightie and pajamas and made snow angels!

As a grand final I made a painting as my host is a super cool artist and she often makes art with an abundance of glitter - Christmas or not.

Now I've arrived at my parents' place. It feels unreal that I've completed my thirty weeks of staying with thirty different people. So the big question is what's next?
The most important thing is of course to write my Swenglish book based on these thirty weeks, but first I need some rest. I have some ideas about where to go and what to do ...
However I still don't know whether to settle in England or Sweden. My ultimate dream is to have a flat in Brighton and a house in the countryside of Sweden.
A journalist who interviewed me this week suggested that I marry a Swedish farmer ... no way!
I was going to milk a cow the other day though. Unfortunately it was cancelled due to illness, but I'm going to do it next week perhaps. To be continued ...

I will still update this blog weekly, so see you later dear readers.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Week29: Stockholm Drama

Last night I had to call the police. My host was trying to stop a fight at a tube station in Stockholm and was protecting a guy who was bleeding. The police turned up very quickly and we could go home, but I still feel a bit shocked.

Sometimes it feels like Stockholm and Sweden are two different countries. I've spent four weeks in Stockholm with four different people during Swenglish, and what they have in common is that at least three of them are stressed, more stressed than people living in other cities.

Stockholm is where it all happens. Both good and bad stuff. This week I've been to the opera for the first time in my life and I've been to a PR event for a new magazine and I've been to a bar/club where only selected people got a stamp and an entry to the "secret" dance floor. I've seen two very good authors, Karl Ove Knausgård and Nina Björk. I've also been to McDonald's for the first time in twelve years, a place I would never have entered if it wasn't for this project and the fact that I have to shadow the person I'm staying with.

Now I'm on the train on my way South to Småland where I'll spend my last Swenglish week in Flisby, the village where my dad grew up. Hopefully it should be quiet, but I've learnt to expect the unexpected ...


Thursday, 6 December 2012

Week29: Winter Worryland

When I first saw snow back in October I was excited and felt very English – or perhaps childish – for pointing at the flakes saying ”Look it’s snowing!” as if I’d never seen snow before. Now when there’s winter for real in Sweden the novelty is gone.

And I’m worried. Will I survive the Swedish winter? I haven’t spent a whole winter in Sweden since 2002/2003. The snow is like an unexpected the guest that you are happy to see briefly in October and can put up with in December, but when that guest is overstaying until April you’re very fed up. Perhaps this white guest will leave for a few weeks and you’ll feel the vibes of spring, but just as you put your winter coat in the cupboard you can be sure that Ms White returns once again ...

At least the Swedes are better prepared for winter than the English. For a start: it is very warm indoors! No one is saving on the heating as most people who live in flats whether they’re are renting or owning have the heating included in the rent or fees. The traffic doesn't stop even though there are delays.The schools and shops and libraries don’t close. People don’t panic buy food in the supermarket. In a way I miss the days of occasional snow in Brighton when I could leave work at 3pm because there was no public transport ... (Ironically my host this week couldn't leave work because they were removing snow from the roof outside her office.)

And I’m not just worried about the snow. I've only got two weeks left of Swenglish, two weeks of deciding whether the live in Sweden or England. The snow is definitely going against Sweden, but the standard of housing is a big big plus.

PS. If you wonder about the skull on my coat pocket, it's not a Christmas tree decoration as an English friend once thought. They are ”reflectors” and a majority of people wear them in Sweden so they can be seen by cars in the dark.